monte on April 9, 2008

An Epistle to my University President

Dear President Lowe,

I’m sorry to trouble you again about this library situation but the conflict has escalated considerably since yesterday and the Provost is out ill. Upon your suggestion, I went to our Safety and Security (SS) Director’s office to work out a solution. To say that the meeting did not go well would be a diplomatic euphemism.

Let me review the background story. My geography colleague and I returned from spring break to discover that our I.D. cards no longer seemed to work. I was on my way to have a new card made because I thought I might have accidentally deactivated mine. I stopped at the security desk to check if others were having trouble. The security officer gave me a very ambiguous and evasive answer. He said something to the effect that some changes were due to Daylight Savings Time and that others were due to security issues.

Neither of us received any prior notification of these changes. The SS Director later told me that the security officers were to have advised us of these changes in advance. I talked with the day security staff: they said that they had never received any such instructions.

The SS Director has now sent an e-mail to his bosses that he thinks will retroactively vindicate his actions. In truth, his message only indicts him. Exposing his real intent, he cites a security report that documents my having unlocked and used, without prior authorization, an empty classroom for a 30-minute small group session. I had previously apologized to the Educational Services Director for my offense and endured a lecture about the sanctity of classroom security. Obviously, I had not shown enough contrition. The removal of my security clearance is punishment, pure and simple.

The library also houses several faculty librarians. It is now obvious that the stripping of only the third floor faculty of access was a thinly veiled attempt to disguise my punishment. In his e-mail, the SS Director attempts to rationalize why the library faculty retains full access while the social science faculty on third floor lost theirs. Unbeknownst to the SS Director, one of three faculty members he reduced access for is a newly hired faculty librarian. Unwittingly, he has exposed both how little he knows about the library and its inhabitants, and that his grounds for depriving non-library faculty of access are spurious.

The last time I checked, the SS Director neither is the Vice President of Academic Affairs nor is he the Library Dean. When did he acquire the omnipotent knowledge to decipher the daily activities of library faculty? How did he discern that their needs for access to classrooms differ qualitatively from those of the social science faculty? What is the justification for support staff having almost unlimited security clearance, while the social science faculty is restricted?

This whole Keystone Cops routine has been nothing more than a poorly disguised case of retaliatory action.

The issue is simple: do teachers or do bureaucrats control the classroom? Is the Facilities office here to serve the academic mission of the university; or, is the faculty here to serve as obedient subordinates to the Facilities staff? The bottom line is that Metropolitan State University is not the Oak Park Heights “Supermax” Correctional Facility nor is the SS Director in charge of Homeland Security.

I have repeatedly taught in every prison in the metropolitan area. I no longer see any qualitative difference between prison security and our own Facilities office when it comes to command-and-control techniques. It would be a wake-up call for you to realize how similar Oak Park Heights and our Library and Learning Center are in their use of apparatchiks and electronic remote control to discipline space and access.

Some of us have devoted a good share of our working lives trying to being good citizens of the Metropolitan State community. For us, this is not a career but a calling. Sometimes it seems that the administration is unwilling to concede that faculty members have reached the age of reason, are competent professionals, and are not about to steal markers or erasers from a classroom. We are not infants, inferiors, or criminals.

As a member of this university’s faculty for 24 years, I increasingly feel as if we are working on a campus occupied by foreign troops, an imperial army of bureaucratic mandarins. Rest assured, this is about more than the intrusive directives of the Minnesota State College and University (MnSCU) system’s central office—we have our own oversupply of quislings. To paraphrase Emerson, inhumane bureaucratic rules are in the saddle and ride the faculty.

I am not naive. I realize that this über-centralized control of college teachers by bean counters and paper shufflers is ubiquitous. Nevertheless, I remain a realistic resister who will not go quietly. I refuse to be a spectator as this increasingly dehumanized university hastens the early retirement of valued colleagues.

Let me pose a simple solution. With a single act, you could re-establish the principle that administrative services exist to meet the needs of teaching and learning. The library is a peculiarly unique entity on this campus. It is nearly singular in both its mission and function. Make the Library Dean the czar of the Library and Learning Center.

Oh My God, wouldn’t that violate the institutional chain of command? “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Monte (#2010012000210)

P.S. Perhaps the central administration is really conducting a cruel replication of Zimbardo’s infamous prison experiment at Stanford University in 1971. If so, I’ve checked with the Institutional Review Board—they have not yet received an application for approval of this research project.

56 Hours Later . . .

I wanted to let you know that your security card access was restored to the level that existed prior to the recent change.  It is possible that your card may not work. If that happens, please contact the Library security officer and she will resolve the problem. Thank you.

Dan Hambrock
Associate Vice President for Capital Planning and Campus Services

A pre-Simmelian Social Type

Why do I do these things? I am, by temperament, an anti-authoritarian populist. Since early childhood, I’ve impetuously challenged any perceived abuse of power or authority. To be honest, sometimes my little outbursts are quixotic in nature—not all windmills are giants.

From time to time, however, others share my grievances against the powers-that-be. At those moments, my rebellious lead attracts a following and the battle is on. Although primarily a man of action, I am still enough of a contemplative to crave those second-order concepts that help elucidate my first-order experiences. I am not one of those constipated sociologists who shy from the interpretative power of metaphor and analogy. This propensity draws me ever closer to Georg Simmel, particularly his literary renderings of social type.

I recently discovered the xia, an ancient social type who predates Simmel by over two millennia. Albert A. Dalia, a Sinologist and novelist, devotes several posts to explicating the historical and literary lineage of the xia ( Dating from the Warring States (403-221 B.C.E.) and Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.) periods of Chinese history, the xia is a venerable ancestor of the anti-authoritarian populist.

Relegated to the lower ranks of society, and with many of the options for advancement closed to him, the xia was not held in very high regard by the elite. To the masses of common people however, the xia was frequently a person to look up to. He was a mythic character who opposed the oppressive landlords and corrupt officials. . . . Their parallel code of ethics and behavior represent the flip side of the Chinese establishment, and rather than being antagonistic to tradition, xia behavior is complementary—yin to yang. This duality of nature is reflected in the juxtaposition of xia and scholars. The xiarespected in times of chaos, while the scholar is highly regarded during times of stability. Thus, the xia in his youth frequently becomes a scholar as he matures and gains wisdom.—Eric Jin

The Human Genome Project will never decode the genealogy of this xia.